My Boy Notch
Part 3 of my Mongolian diary…
Notch has become my horse. Pujay, the camp herdsman (who looks about a hundred and eight but is apparently only forty), brings him over to me straight away now when I go to get a pony from the line. I called him Notch because of his ear. In Mongolia ear-snipping is a way of marking ownership, much like our branding, but the camp owner has bought so many horses from all over the place that there is no uniform mark; some have an ear snipped, some have both ears snipped, some have brands; it doesn’t seem to make much difference. Poor old Notch has three marks. I think as horses go, Notch looks like a rock star. He’s not the biggest horse at camp but he’s a beautiful fudge colour with a wicked two-tone mane. I wish my hair was that naturally funky.
Usually if I try to commune with the horses whilst they’re free-range, they just swish their tails and wander further away to graze; I don’t think they really understand the concept of being friends with people. The first few times I spotted Notch grazing up on the hillside and tried to go and say hi he did the same, but after a while I think he just got curious about this strange human who didn’t seem to be trying to catch him. We had the most magical afternoon on the hillside amongst the wild flowers which I will treasure forever. For once he didn’t wander off and instead he just stood looking at me intrigued and suffered me to take a few snaps. Eventually he let me get close enough to give him a good scratch behind the ear which must have broken the last of his defences as we spent the rest of the afternoon playing on the hillside.
He was so relaxed with me that he was quite happy to doze off standing next to me and in the end we both hit the ground and shared a nice nap in the flowers like a scene from a fairy-tale. Best nap ever.
To ride, Notch is kind of crazy. A more perfect pony you could not imagine at walk, trot and canter; ask him for more speed or less speed and he’ll immediately obey, it’s the gallop where he gets a bit bananas. He’s faster than I would have thought possible for a pony his size and his sturdy hooves hit the ground quicker than a drumroll when he’s galloping. He is not a pony that needs a lot of encouragement; one utter of the word ‘choo’, the Mongolian command for ‘go’, and he’s off. If Pujay sneaks up behind you and whistles through his teeth the way he does when he rounds them up in the morning then you’re on the horizon quicker than you can blink too. I am a total speed-freak and I love nothing more than the feeling of the wind rushing past my face so I love my speedy golden boy. That said though, I’m still a bit rusty and out of practise and I’m not completely at full-confidence again yet; I’m still holding onto the front of the saddle when we gallop. I’m not sure how anyone could let go on Notch; I can do it for short periods but he’s so excitable and such a sharp-turner when he’s going flat-out that he can fling you off at a split-second’s notice. Not intentionally of course but he just has his own way of turning. If the rest of the group is veering towards the right, he’ll continue dead straight until he decides to turn and then he’ll corner sharper than a cat to get himself back on the same trajectory as them. The skin on my fingers is ripped to pieces from trying to stay on during his high-speed surprise turns. He’d probably be the best gymkhana pony ever if someone brought him to Britain.
Still, I would far rather have my Notch with his speed, eagerness to please and shared siestas than a steady, slow horse that has to be asked thirty times to do something.